Commodity Corner

Views on commodities and energy

from Global Investing:

Real estate negotiations, Argentina style

There's not too much one can do when a government minister marches into your office and essentially tells you to get lost. On April 16, 2012, the normal Monday morning routines unfolded with greater tension in the Buenos Aires offices of Spanish energy company Repsol's YPF subsidiary. As top planning executive Carlos Jiminez and his colleagues were watching President Christina Fernandez unveil plans to seize control of YPF and nationalize Argentina's leading energy producer, the unthinkable happened.

"About 30 minutes before she finished her speech, the undersecretary of planning and the state representative on the (YPF) board, Roberto Baratta, marched in and said the business relationship was ended," Jiminez recalled after a luncheon in New York this week.

"All they said was 'We need the office', and that was that. We had 10 minutes to get our stuff and get out. Our e-mails and phones were cut off within 15 minutes of their arrival. It was a shock. Simply, that the relationship was finished. I never thought this would happen," said Jiminez.

In February 2012, Argentine officials accused the oil company of denying them entry to a board meeting. It was the early days of the pressure  being applied to the company, and the local energy industry in general, by the Fernandez government to boost oil and natural gas output as fuel imports were soaring.

from Krishna Das:

ANALYSIS-Small ships to unlock rate boon for bulk owners

By Krishna N Das and Jonathan Saul

BANGALORE/LONDON, Feb 8 (Reuters) - Dry cargo shippers with smaller vessels are shifting to more-risk, more-reward spot markets, eyeing rising demand for sugar and grains -- commodities well suited to versatile supramax and handysize ships.

Ship owners generally prefer long-term charters in a weak market. The Baltic Dry Index <.BADI> o-year lows in recent weeks but confidence has been rocked by South Korean dry bulk group Korea Line Corp <005880.KS> filing for bankruptcy protection, highlighting the risk of charter-party defaults.

from Tales from the Trail:

Think brussels sprouts and cauliflower are agricultural commodities? Think again.

While the financial bailouts tossed to automakers, banks and other groups during the recent economic crisis left a funny taste in the mouth of some Americans, one former U.S. regulator hopes efforts to prevent another panic doesn't go rotten.

The U.S. Commodity Futures Trading Commission is immersed in drafting dozens of rules to assist it in increasing oversight of the once opaque over-the-counter derivatives market, widely blamed for exacerbating the recent financial crisis. USA/

from Global News Journal:

Can export bans be challenged at the WTO?

 

 

Russian grain harvest

Russia’s ban on grain exports as a heat wave parches crops in the world’s third biggest wheat exporter has raised questions whether such export curbs break World Trade Organization rules. Russia is not a member of the WTO, and it remains to be seen how its new grain policy will affect its 17-year-old bid to join. But other grain exporters, such as Ukraine, which is also considering export curbs, are part of the global trade referee.

WTO rules are quite clear that members cannot interfere with imports and exports in a way that disrupts trade or discriminates against other members. But in practice most WTO rules aim to stop countries blocking imports – shutting out competitor’s goods to give their own domestic producers an unfair advantage.

from MacroScope:

Argentina set for wheat windfall

Not everyone is upset about the 50 percent surge in wheat prices over the past month.

Wheat's rise to 2-year highs was caused first by heavy rains in Canada and now by a Russian export ban that was triggered by its worst drought in decades. There are floods in Pakistan, another major wheat grower. But while the wheat market shenanigans are triggering much hand-wringing across developing nations, Argentina, one of the world's top seven wheat exporters, may be set for a windfall.

Getting down to business at U.N. climate talks a hard task

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A U.N. concession to delegates at this week’s climate talks in Bonn to take off jackets and ties due to recent high temperatures may be going to some participants’ heads.

Breaking the back of negotiations for a new climate pact after the Kyoto Protocol expires in 2012 is proving hard work even though the talks’ chair hopes to have a new negotiating text on the table by the end of the week.

from MacroScope:

Should central banks now sell gold?

Central banks in debt-strapped countries have a golden opportunity ahead of them, if you will excuse the pun, to help their countries' finances by selling their yellow metal holdings.

At least, that is the message that Royal Bank of Scotland's commodities chief Nick Moore has been giving in recent presentations -- and he thinks it might happen.   The gist is that gold is now at a record price but banks have not come close to  meeting their sales allowance for the year.

from Summit Notebook:

That’s rich. I meant the wine.

Jeffrey Rubin

What do gold and wine have in common?

Price.

Well, too high of a high price, according to Jeffrey Rubin, director of research at Birinyi Associates, the stock market research and money management firm.

Rubin told the Reuters Investment Outlook Summit on Tuesday that he thought gold prices were "certainly a little frothy" at current levels and that he would rather be a buyer of the gold miners such as Newmont Mining Corp, Barrick Gold Corp, or Freeport-McMoRan Copper and Gold Inc. Gold hit an all-time high  above $1,250 an ounce on Tuesday as investors piled in due to fears that European credit contagion could lead to a double-dip recession.

Did Americans drive more this Memorial Day?

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Consumer confidence is perking up and with summer around the corner, Americans might be feeling a little more liberal with their travel budget, according to some trendwatchers and people in the travel industry.

“Our train counts are three times what they were last year,” said Bruce Brossman, director of reservations and sales at the Grand Canyon Railway, which expected to sell out on Memorial Day weekend.

from Summit Notebook:

Would the last person to leave the smelter please turn out the lights?

For UC RUSAL, one simple act is crucial to reducing costs.
Bonuses for managers at the world's largest aluminium company
depend on the company's 75,000 workers heeding the message.
"We have to introduce a new culture: if you leave the
office, turn off the lights," Artyom Volynets, UC RUSAL's deputy
chief executive for strategy, said at Reuters Global Mining and
Steel Summit on Monday.
"We have 16 smelters, each with their own headquarters and
offices. We employ 75,000 people. If each one of them is
switching off the lights at the end of their shift, that would
help tremendously."
UC RUSAL embarked on a major drive to slash production costs
last year as part of an ultimately successful attempt to secure
Russia's largest ever private sector debt restructuring.
Easy access to Siberian hydroelectric power, compared with
relatively high-cost coal used to power smelters in other parts
of the world, affords UC RUSAL a distinct cost advantage when
making aluminium used in transport, construction and packaging.
In the first half of 2009, it cost UC RUSAL an average
$1,400 to produce a tonne of aluminium. The metal is now selling
at above $2,200 a tonne.
UC RUSAL has cut costs by sourcing cheaper raw materials of
better quality and improving throughput rates at its smelters in
Siberia, which account for about 80 percent of its total output.
But cheap power in Siberia had also led to complacency.
"Our smelters are located in probably the only remaining
major energy-long region in the world. Therefore, if you buy
power at 2 cents per kilowatt, you don't really care how much
you spend," Volynets said.
"For my colleagues on the operational side of the business,
their key performance indicators are 100 percent tied to cost
improvements," he said. "They will not be compensated if these
improvements are not implemented."
(Writing by Robin Paxton in Moscow)